Monday, June 27, 2016

Joy at the Pool Not Just From a Jump in the Water

When we reconnected with old friends last month, Kai and Timothy decided that they wanted to get together for playdates. And their moms have arranged just that.

A week ago Friday, Kai went over to Timothy’s house and had a great time. This past Friday Timothy came over to our house.

They played on the Wii and with plushies, and then my wife took them over to our neighborhood swimming pool.

At this pool, kids have to take a swim test on their first visit to show whether they can be allowed into the deep area of the pool. Kai was familiar with the test from previous summers and he passed easily. Timothy had a harder time following the lifeguard’s instructions and kept putting his feet down and touching the bottom instead of swimming.

Kai tried to explain to the lifeguard. “He has autism,” he said, in trying to get the lifeguard to give his friend more time. Eventually Timothy did pass the test and they were able to play together on the deep side.

My wife reported that while they didn’t exactly play with each other the way typical kids do, Kai did a nice job of trying to engage with Timothy, often calling out to him and encouraging him to come over to him. Kai’s favorite thing was doing cannonballs into the pool with his friend.

Kids with autism often struggle with taking the perspective of someone else or thinking of others. But at the pool, my wife said that Kai showed concern for Timothy’s older brother Benjamin, who also has autism. When Kai and Timothy went to another part of the pool to go down a slide, Kai asked his mother to stay with Benjamin in the deep area to make sure he would be okay.

The boys had a great time splashing, sliding, swimming.

But for us parents, our greatest pleasure came from the little things that happened there, the signs of progress we saw with Kai. He communicated, he engaged, and he thought of others.

And that brings us as much joy as a well executed cannonball.

Hope you are off to a good summer, too!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Picking Strawberries - Then and Now

I have been taking my wife and Kai to the pick-your-own strawberry farm in Wisconsin for about 9 or 10 years now. But the tradition had its origins long before that.

When I was 12, the same age that Kai is now, my parents took my sister and I to the very same farm in Wisconsin. Here's photo of me picking strawberries, with my dad and sister in the background.

It looks like we picked a lot of berries that day. The following photo shows me with my mom, grandmother, aunt, and sister.

The thing that strikes me the most about the above photo was that it looks like it was a very cool day based on how we were dressed. In all the times I've gone with Kai, it has almost always been scorching hot.

And today was to be no different - a 90 degree day was forecasted - so we decided to go early in the morning to beat the heat.

The berries were small but boy were they sweet! This year might be among the best in terms of the tastiness of the fruit.

A good time was had by all!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

First Bat Mitzvah

Kai and I experienced our first Bat Mitzvah last night.

A Bar Mitzvah (for boys) or Bat Mitzvah (for girls) is a traditional religious ceremony that usually marks a coming-of-age when Jewish kids turn 13. Kai’s aunt never had a Bat Mitzvah when she was 13, and decided that she wanted to do that now.

I learned that the participant in the Bat Mitzvah must go through months of preparation. For nine months, Karolyn and her fellow women got together every week to learn Hebrew and study with the Cantor.

Last night was the culmination of their studies.

Our original plan was that my wife would attend the Shabbot service at the temple where the B’not Mitvah (plural) would take place, while I would stay home with Kai. There was no way that he would sit through the service, we thought, which we understood could be long (at least 90 minutes) and quite boring to Kai, with many prayers in Hebrew. We didn’t want to risk that Kai would get loud and disrupt the ceremony.

We sent our regrets to Karolyn, and she said she understood. But reading between the lines of her email, I sensed disappointment that Kai would not be there.

I spoke with my wife about going with Kai and giving it a try.

And so the three of us ended up going. We thought it would be a good idea to go in separate cars in case I had to leave early with Kai. My wife rode with Kai’s grandmother, while I drove over there with Kai.

In the car I wanted to set proper expectations. It will be a new experience for us, I said, so let’s find out what it will be like. Aunt Karolyn will be so happy to see him, and this is a big occasion for her so he has to be very respectful. The ceremony will be long, and he cannot talk during it. Much of it will be in Hebrew, so it may be boring, but that’s okay, we will be experiencing something new.

He asked how many times Karolyn would have a Bat Mitzvah, though he really already knew that this was a one-time event. His question was a nod to the fact that just a few weeks ago, he and I had to miss Karolyn’s son’s college graduation party because Kai had had a terrible day at school and had to make up a lot of schoolwork that evening. I had scolded him then: “Do you know how many times Rudy will graduate from college? Once! And we’re missing the celebration.”

He seemed to understand that this too was a big occasion, maybe even bigger, and he shouldn’t mess it up.

At the temple, we met our extended family who were already there. Many came in from out of town for the event.

Kai and I found seats in the back row, again as contingency for having to make a quick exit.

It was a traditional Friday night Shabbat service with the B’not Mitzvah added on. Kai took great interest in the prayer book, and tried to follow along with each prayer and song. I was pleasantly surprised at how many songs the cantor sang, and it definitely helped to make things more interesting for Kai.

From time to time, the five women of the B’not Mitzvah would get up to speak, to either lead a prayer, give a speech, or later, to read from the Torah.

A couple different times Kai asked what time it was, but for the most part he did not seem restless. He sat quietly, paid attention to what was going on, and did not cause any disruption.

We were relieved, and very proud, that he handled things so well.

And his aunt was very happy that he had come!

As I said at the top, a Bat Mitzvah is traditionally a coming of age ceremony. In some ways, this one was a coming of age of sorts for Kai.

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